Fulham fell to a second successive defeat as they lost 2-1 to Preston North End on a feisty evening at Deepdale.
Sean Maguire struck early on the first half and once both teams had been reduced to ten men David Nugent bundled home to put the result beyond reach shortly after the break. An Aleksandar Mitrović goal with under ten minutes remaining proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
Scott Parker was forced to make two changes to the side that ran out narrow losers against Bristol City only two days previous at Craven Cottage. Club captain Tom Cairney and Joe Bryan, who had both featured on the weekend narrowly missed out through injury. Cyrus Christie was brought in to play on the right side of a defensive back four and with the move Denis Odoi shifted to the left in place of Bryan. Furthermore, Aboubakar Kamara formed a front two pairing with Mitro. A 4-4-2 formation implemented by the Head Coach for the first time this campaign.
A sparsely populated Deepdale greeted the two teams as they made their way out on a miserable night in the North-West.
It was Fulham who started the brightest and in the third minute a precise attack almost lead to an opener. The ball quickly flowed down the left flank to Ivan Cavaleiro and before the Preston back line could set he fizzed a low ball into the feet of Mitro on the edge of the box. After working some space from his man the powerful striker pushed an effort just wide of the post. An excellent start from Fulham.
We continued to assert our authority on the encounter and were finding joy down both sides, especially down the right flank with Christie allowed time and space on numerous occasions to look to pick out players in the box.
Despite our good start in the 23rd minute the hosts took the lead. A corner was aimlessly lofted into the box. A lack of urgency from players in the box allowed Maguire to control and turn unchallenged. After earning some space the lively attacker fired low and hard past Marek Rodák in the Fulham net.
Things went from bad to worse three minutes later when Odoi was shown a straight red card for a rash challenge on Patrick Bauer. After losing possession a ball bounced on the edge of the box and ricocheted high into the air. With the ball up for grabs Denis flew into the defender once the ball had been headed clear. After some deliberation the red card to brandished and we were down to ten men.
The tide had well and truly turned and in the 37th minute Preston almost doubled their lead. A quick attack culminated in a smart low ball being played in behind our back line to the feet of Maguire. With only the keeper to beat he looked to slip and effort under the feet of the onrushing Rodák. The keeper stood tall and pushed the effort wide with an outstretched leg.
On the stroke of half-time we were offered a lifeline through another rash challenge. This time a Preston player channelling his inner Daniel from the Karate kid to floor Joe Bryan with a horrible tackle. Stefan Johansen sent a pass out to the left wing and after flicking the ball forwards Bryan was crunched by Joseph Rafferty.
It would be ten v ten in the second half with Fulham looking to claw their way back into the match.
The second half started in the worst possible fashion as our chances of a comeback were extinguished. A clever ball across the box was met by a first time effort destined for the bottom right hand corner from Brad Potts. A smart save ballooned up in the air and David Nugent was on hand to bundle home on he second attempt. A scrappy goal but a second nonetheless.
Scott Parker threw caution to the wind and made a second change, bringing on Neeskens Kebano to replace Alfie Mawson and reverting to a back three. An attacking change with very little to lose in the circumstances.
We almost made the closing stages a nervy one for the hosts in the 73rd minute. A deep cross from Anthony Knockaert was flicked on by Mitro in the heart of the penalty area. The ball fell kindly to Johansen at the back post. After steadying himself he switched the ball over to his favoured left foot and looked to bend one in the far corner. It was almost picture perfect but the ball crashed against the bar and deflected clear.
A flurry of chances for Josh Onomah and Mitrović came our way minutes later but we were unable to get within one.
It seemed all lost until the 81st minute when Mitro struck. Kebano, who had been a sparkplug off the bench meandered up the left wing and fed the Serbian on the edge of the box. After taking a touch he lashed one home into the bottom corner. We would not have ten minutes to grab something from the match.
It proved too little too late despite some time huffing and puffing in the closing stages. We will look to bounce back on Saturday in a West London derby vs Brentford.